E3 welcomes 15,000 gamers: The ESA talks & the industry reacts

Seth Barton
E3 crowd

Just over 50,000 people attended E3 last year. Now the ESA, the US video game trade body which runs E3, has decided to add 15,000 members of the public into the mix. 

It’s a huge change of direction for the long-running, trade-only show. The industry as a whole has tried to be more open to consumers for years, so this move is in step with prevailing thinking, though it comes rather late to the party.

Prices aren’t cheap either, a thousand early-bird passes sold out in days at $149 (£119), with the remaining ‘Expo Passes’ costing $249 (£200) each. At those prices, we’re not going to see those on the fringes of the industry paying for something they can get for free with a little effort. That said, we may see E3 tighten up on industry-accredited applications, though only time will tell.

“It’s a changing industry and E3 has always evolved to meet industry needs and anticipate where we’re heading together — as an event, as an industry, and as fans,” Rich Taylor, senior VP of communications at the ESA tells MCV. “The decision to open our doors to 15,000 fans was a strategic decision. The vision and leadership of our members made this possible. We have a model that allows the business of the industry to continue for our business and media attendees and provides an opportunity for video games’ biggest fans to experience the latest in innovative, immersive entertainment.”

"E3 has always evolved to meet industry needs"

We ask Taylor whether E3 is still a trade show or now a consumer show, but he doesn’t see it in such binary terms: “It can be both. The model we developed provides a great opportunity for gamers to bring their excitement and energy while also providing clear and defined opportunities for media and the industry community to work on the business of video games.” 

Unlike Gamescom, E3 isn’t going to be divided into trade-only and public days, with everyone thrown in together instead. 

“There are two passes available for purchase,” says Taylor. “There is a business pass, which will provide business attendees with access to a VIP Business Lounge, preferred entry to the convention center, and other amenities. That pass is likely most appealing to lawyers, analysts, executives, advertisers, communications specialists who want to network and conduct the business of the industry.” 

He continues: “The fans will have a dedicated entrance to the show floors. In addition, we’ll have a series of discussions and panels at LA Live so fans can hear directly — and interact with — leading video game figures. We’ll have more information on that soon.” 

From the sounds of that, the average industry attendee is going to be the one suffering, without the business lounge to retreat to, and with no dedicated entrance, they will be left with the same E3 as before, but with more people clogging the showfloor.

"We’ll have a series of discussions and panels at LA Live so fans can hear directly — and interact with — leading video game figures"

We wonder if the show will be made more spacious to accompany the additional numbers, but Taylor won’t be drawn on how the show will change exactly: “Every year our exhibitors impress the world with their innovation and creativity. With E3 opening to 15,000 gamers, we anticipate that energy and excitement to be even higher for the incredibly innovative games unveiled this year.“

PUBLIC LIABILITY

With attendee numbers falling from 2015 to 2016 and EA choosing to host its own event across the road for both industry and the public alike, it does appear that the ESA is responding to recent events. Did Taylor think the success of public shows, such as Comic Con and PAX, were a factor in E3 opening up?

“Comic-Con and PAX are great events. We each have a role and we’re supportive of those shows. However, E3 has a reputation around the world as the place where video game hardware and software launches happen. Last year, E3 generated more than 65bn media impressions around the globe. That doesn’t happen accidentally and it’s a testament to E3’s strength, its connection to the fans, and the event’s position in the industry,” he replies. 

Taylor isn’t keen to talk specifics about 2018 at this point, saying that they’ll see how 2017 goes first.

“My ambition for E3 is to ensure that it maintains its place as the world-leading video game event. A great show where the world turns its eyes to E3 to see the latest announcements in video game hardware and software.”

It’s a big ambition. The lines between the industry and the public are becoming increasingly blurred and more-and-more promotional activity is moving online to streamed events. Still, if E3 can sell its $3.63m dollars of tickets then it’ll probably be suitably motivated to find a way to keep everyone happy.

ATTENDEE OPINION

We rounded up a bunch of industry professionals who pound the carpets of E3 every year and asked them what they thought of E3’s switch in direction.

Matthew DiPietro, SVP marketing, Twitch                                                            

There are some definite benefits to this move. Outside of TwitchCon, Southern California doesn’t have a major video game-centric conference that caters to both the industry and the public, so it’s the perfect location for a broader gaming event. What we are also seeing is that content creators are now playing a greater role in terms of influencing purchasing decisions. By E3 opening its gates a little wider, it helps to ensure more of those content creators can be part of the experience, which will ultimately help the brands who are involved.

Debbie Bestwick, CEO, Team17                                                      

In today’s world, we message and market direct to gaming fans and we hugely welcome this new E3 approach, building and engaging with gaming communities is one of the key pillars of marketing today. The move is long overdue as we have all seen the tremendous success that is Gamescom in Europe. What remains to be seen and what I believe is going to be the biggest challenge for E3 is how to make sure trade will be able to carry on their usual business without detracting from consumer’s enjoyment and vice versa. We are eager to see how E3 evolves in 2017.

Ben Le Rougetel, head of PR, Indigo Pearl                                              

Not a wholly unexpected decision by the ESA, given the success of Gamescom’s dual approach and the recent move by some publishers to host public facing events during E3. My biggest concern – with no separate consumer and business halls and no specific media-only day it will make handling appointments and demos even more chaotic. Glad I won’t be working a reception desk.

Garry Williams, CEO, Sold Out                                                                    

Not having a single trade day is problematic, many people struggled to get from meeting to meeting when the 5,000 ‘new retail people’ were added, now it makes moving around halls and booths for meetings almost impossible – meetings become more of an offsite option. Public events require greater security around the stands, more protection of demo kit and code and I wonder if the top six publishers will carry the attention and news needed to justify the public’s rather high entrance fee once the trade go offsite.

Laura Skelly, PR manager, Capcom                                                               

I think it’s great E3 isn’t sticking with the same formula as previous years. As publishers attending the event it’s an exciting time to show off your latest games to trade and media but at the same time it’s important to have consumers get excited about what you have coming up and give them the opportunity to access content earlier than they have done previously. It will be interesting to see how publishers react to this and perhaps tailor E3 content more than they have done previously. Not looking forward to the Starbucks queue though.

Stefano Petrullo, founder, Renaissance PR                                                                  

I have been at almost every single E3 since 1995 and I believe the change of the show to accommodate consumers is a good move: the real challenge for the organisers and companies now is to create compelling gamer content without jeopardising media and business effectiveness. Also, it’s worth noting E3 represents not only the convention centre but the whole week in L.A of big announcements, press conferences and networking.

Additional reporting: Alex Calvin

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Tags: Feature , E3 2017

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